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North America » United States » Virginia » Richmond
October 16th 2003
Published: October 16th 2003
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I woke at sunrise at the Little Flower Catholic Worker, and made it outside in time to still see the moon glowing in the indigo western sky. After a hearty vegetarian breakfast, we all headed down to the pond for a group picture before I left. Several of the Catholic Workers rode into town with me, making for a festive departure. There I met up with "Bike Shop" Sean, a member of the Twin Oaks intentional community who offered to ride with me part of the way to Richmond.

I had a few questions for Sean about Twin Oaks, as I remembered reading about the community in a book entitled, "Getting Back Together." As we rode, he answered a few of my questions, and invited me to stop for lunch at Twin Oaks. Since I had no other plans, I accepted his offer. Plus, since Sean was responsible for the maintennance of Twin Oaks' fleet of bicycles, I figured I could also take care of a few minor repairs while I was there.

Twin Oaks lived up to my expectations during my brief visit, what with its solar panels, compost heap and organic gardens. But I was also impressed with the sense of community that I encountered while I was there.

After a brief game of hackeysack, Sean and I continued on our ride, and Sean's conversation lent me support as we rode into a stiff wind. With the extra wind resistance of my trailer and panniers, I was traveling much slower than Sean on his unencumbered bike, even when I was bent over my aero bars.

Sean told me about a minimally-organized bicycling group called the "Superheroes," that rides around on goodwill missions, seeking to do charity work wherever they can. During their last ride through North Carolina they rode everyday without any agenda, looking for the opportunity to work wherever they could and seeking a camping spot at the end of the night. The idea continues to fascinate me as I look for more ways to incorporate cycling into my life.

Sean also related a practice of the Superheroes of burying roadkill they encounter with a prayer. At first I was unsure of the hygiene of such a practice, but I came to agree with Sean that perhaps as humans it is the least we can do for the other living creatures that bear the cost for our need for speed. At 60mph it is often unsafe to swerve for an animal, and they consequently die while we arrive at our destination in a timely manner.

As I rode into Richmond on Route 250 I had plenty of time to consider Sean's words. At the crest of a hill I could see the asphalt ribbon stretching on in front of me, turning to neither the left nor the right, and heedless of any elevation change. As I rode I kept crossing "Three Chopt Road," and after the fourth time I finally opened up my map to discover that Three Chopt Road meandered back and forth across Route 250, following the contour lines. I found out later from my host in Richmond that Three Chopt Road was the old wagon train trail from Richmond. It had been built to accomodate a slower, more humanistic mode of travel. But with the advent of the automobile it had been deemed too narrow and twisty to allow for safe, speedy travel, and so a new road had been built.

After 30 miles on the new road, my knees were screaming for mercy as I pedalled fiercely down one hill in hopes of cresting the next hill sooner. All the way to Richmond I rode across the hills, and about 15 miles outside the city the fields and forests gave way to new subdivisions and parking lots. I passed a new mall, still under construction, and dodged traffic cones and dump trucks on my way into the city. Like so many cities, Richmond has grown out from the center. The widest ring of the city is the newest, and as I rode into the city the buildings became smaller, older and dingier. Massive, boxy stores gave way to smaller, older strip malls, and soon the strip malls became storefronts, many of them abandoned. The houses became progressively older and more decayed as I rode in until I came to the "revitalized" old town section, where millions of dollars had been spent restoring the old city.

When I rode my bicycle across Europe, I saw the same pattern there, but on a far smaller scale. There zoning laws have been in place for some time now, and the massive devastation of the world wars created the opportunity for urban planning on a scale unseen in America. But the desire for planning came out of a realization that land was a finite commodity. I only wonder how long it will take before Americans come to the same realization.

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